Of the 5 types of gynecological cancers, cervical cancer is the most common in women ages 35 to 44. Though anyone who has a cervix is at risk for cervical cancer, the main cause of most cervical cancers is Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, a sexually transmitted infection whose cells can survive the immune system and become cancerous. Luckily, cervical pre-cancers are diagnosed far more often than invasive cervical cancers. Here’s everything you should know about the signs, symptoms, and treatments of cervical cancer. 

What is Cervical Cancer?

Cervical Cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina, known as the cervix. About 14,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year with the average age of diagnosis being 50 years old. As with many types of cancer, cervical cancer occurs when healthy cells mutate and begin growing and multiplying rapidly. The mutations cause the cells to stay alive and accumulate, resulting in the formation of a mass, or a tumor. The cancerous cells then invade nearby tissues and can break off, spreading to other parts of the body. Around 4,000 people die of cervical cancer per year. However, these cancers rarely occur in women who are frequently tested and screened for cervical cancer before the age of 65. “It isn’t clear what causes cervical cancer,” says Kristina Butler, M.D., a gynecologic oncologist, “but it’s certain that HPV plays a role.” HPV is transmitted through sexual contact (anal, oral, or vaginal) and is among the most common sexually transmitted diseases. There are more than 100 types of HPV and about a dozen of them have been shown to cause cancer, though most people with this virus never develop cancer. 

Types of Cervical Cancer: 

  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC): Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) or cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (CSCC) is a form of skin cancer that most commonly starts in the squamous cells in the outer layer of your skin. This cancer can also form in the mucosal membranes of your body, such as the inner lining of your organs and body cavities. In the case of cervical cancer, this cancer forms in the squamous cells lining the outer part of the cervix. This is the most common type of cervical cancer. 
  • Adenocarcinoma: Adenocarcinoma is a type of cancer that forms in the glandular tissue that lines certain internal organs. With cervical cancer, the cancer forms in the glandular cells that line the cervical canal. Only about 10-20% of cervical cancers are adenocarcinomas. 

What are the Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer?

While anyone with a cervix is at risk for cervical cancer, risk factors for the cancer include:

  • Engaging in unsafe sexual behaviors: Having many sexual partners and not using condoms can increase the risk of acquiring HPV, which can develop into cervical cancer. Having other STIs can also increase your risk of HPV.
  • Being sexually active at an early age: Having sex at an early age can increase your chances of getting HPV. 
  • Birth control pills: Studies have shown that long-term use of birth control pills can increase the risk of cervical cancer.
  • Tobacco smoking: Smoking tobacco increases the risk of developing many cancers, including cervical cancer. 
  • Pre-existing conditions: Having diseases such as HIV or other conditions that make it hard for your body to fight off diseases can make you more likely to develop cervical cancer. You may also be genetically predisposed to being at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer if there is a history of the cancer in your family. 

What are the Symptoms of Cervical Cancer?

Because there aren’t usually any symptoms in the early stages of cervical cancer, finding abnormal cells during a screening is the best way to detect cervical cancer early. While the first signs of cervical cancer can take years to develop, signs and symptoms can include:

  • Heavy amounts of foul smelling watery or bloody vaginal discharge
  • Vaginal bleeding after sex, pain, or pelvic pain during intercourse
  • Abnormal bleeding in between periods or after menopause
  • Menstrual periods may last longer or be heavier than normal

Along with these symptoms, some people may experience abnormal fatigue, a loss of appetite, and may feel generally unwell. As the cancer progresses and spreads, some may experience pelvic pain or develop issues with urination.  

How is Cervical Cancer Diagnosed and Treated?

Before becoming cancerous, abnormal cells in your cervix may dissipate, stay the same or turn into cancerous cells. Abnormal cells can be removed to prevent cancer if found early enough. Regular visits and screenings with a gynecologist are the best way to catch cervical cancer early. If the results of a pap smear come back with abnormal cells, your healthcare provider may do further testing, such as testing for HPV. They might also take a tissue sample and have it biopsied to rule out cancer. If the biopsy confirms cancer, further staging testing such as liver and kidney function studies, blood and urine tests, and x-rays may be done to determine if the disease has spread to other parts of the body. 

What are the Stages of Cervical Cancer?

  • Stage 1: The cancer is found only in the cervix, is confined to the cervical lining and uterus, and the tumor is smaller than 4cm in width. 
  • Stage 2: The cancer has spread to tissue nearby, such as the vagina or the tissue near the cervix but has not spread beyond the pelvic area. 
  • Stage 3: The tumor has spread to the lower third of the vagina and/or: has spread to the pelvic wall; causes swelling of the kidney; stops a kidney from functioning; and/or involves the regional lymph nodes, the small, bean-shaped organs that help fight infections. 
  • Stage 4A: The cancer has spread to the bladder or rectum but not to the other parts of the body. 
  • Stage 4B: The cancer has spread to other parts of the body. 

How is Cervical Cancer Treated?

Treatment for cervical cancer is based on several factors including the age, health, the progression of the disease and whether you’d like children in the future. Radiation therapy and/or surgery is generally used to treat early-stage tumors. For larger tumors, advanced tumors found only in the pelvis, or if the lymph nodes have cancerous cells, chemoradiation is used. Chemoradiation is sometimes also used after a surgery if there is a high chance of reoccurrence or if the cancer has spread. Once the cancer has spread out of the pelvis to other parts of the body (stage 4B), it is not usually considered curable. 

What is the Survival Rate for Cervical Cancer?

When cervical cancer is diagnosed early, the survival rate is 92%. If the cancer has spread to the surrounding areas, the survival rate can decrease to 58%. If the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body, the survival rate can decrease even lower, to about 18%. About 44% of people with cervical cancer are diagnosed early. Abnormal cells in the cervix may take at least 5 years to develop into invasive cancer cells and may be faster in those with weak immune systems.

How Can I Lower My Risk of Cervical Cancer?

Some easy ways to reduce your risk for cervical cancer are:

  • Getting vaccinated against HPV – the HPV vaccine is approved for children and adults ages 9 to 45
  • Getting regularly screened and tested for cervical cancer
  • Practicing safe sex
  • Seeing a doctor about any abnormal symptoms you experience, or if your test results are not normal
  • Quitting smoking

Staying on top of your health is the most important step in avoiding catastrophic health issues. Scheduling regular screenings with your gynecologist, practicing safe sex, and paying attention to any abnormal symptoms you may experience is key catching cervical cancer early or avoiding it all together. At FirstMed Health and Wellness, we make your health a priority with in-house preventative care and specialist referral services. Take control of your health today – find out more at FMHWC.org or call us at (702) 731-0909 today to make an appointment. 


Butler, K. M.D. (2022, October). Mayo Clinic Explains Cervical Cancer. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved December 19, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cervical-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20352501

The American Cancer Society Medical and Editorial Team (2022, January 12). Key Statistics for Cervical Cancer.American Cancer Society. Retrieved December 19, 2022, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/about/key-statistics.html

Cleveland Clinic Professional, (2022, February 17). Cervical Cancer. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved December 19, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12216-cervical-cancer

Cancer.Net Editorial Board, (2022, January). Cervical Cancer: Stages. Cancer.Net. Retrieved December 19, 2022, from https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/cervical-cancer/stages

Category: Disease Awareness